Political Declaration on NCDs falls short of expectations, says CARICOM

President Bouterse

(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are among world leaders who agreed via a 15-page Political Declaration to step up the offensive against Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as heart diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.

Already, five CARICOM Leaders from Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas who addressed the 66th United Nations General Assembly which opened on Monday, gave their full support to the Political Declaration, which was approved in the Opening Plenary.

Notwithstanding their approval of the political statement however, CARICOM leaders felt that the Declaration, which committed United Nations Member States to the implementation of a raft of actions to fight NCDs and their risk factors, fell short of expectations.

Speaking on behalf of CARICOM, President of Suriname His Excellency Desire Delano Bouterse who was the first speaker on the long list of several world leaders applauded the Political Statement, describing it as a “turning point” in the fight against the “global tsunami of non-communicable diseases” at all levels. President Bouterse asserted that the Political Declaration was a concrete outcome of the “intense and sustained activity” that had followed the adoption of the Port-of-Spain Declaration – Uniting to stop the epidemic of Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases – which emanated from the landmark CARICOM Summit on NCDs held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on 15 September 2007.

He noted that the Declaration assumed that there would be well-structured national as well as global plans, which included clear targets and a set of indicators for measuring progress and that it provided a good platform for ongoing consideration of the development and other impacts of those diseases by the international community.

However, President Bouterse pointed out that while there was much to celebrate in the Declaration, it felt short fell “somewhat short” of its expectations. According to the Suriname President the Political Statement did not elaborate a clear enough goal and corresponding road map for the global non-communicable diseases campaign that it was launching; neither did it have a global collaborative mechanism or strong reservations on the use of the term “epidemic” in relation to the global spread of those diseases.

“Nonetheless, if scrupulously implemented, the Declaration would contribute in meaningful ways to achieving internationally agreed development goals,” he added. For CARICOM States, he said, “the central message of the Declaration was a global consensus on strengthened commitment to action to address non-communicable diseases and their risk factors at all levels.” He stressed the need for a comprehensive multi-sectoral approach to combating NCDs; one that considered full stakeholder participation, which according to the Suriname President, would be cost-effective.

He then pledged CARICOM’s continued commitment to ensuring that the Political Statement was not transformed into “a minor rhetorical achievement” but rather used as a platform for resolute actions by all States and other stakeholders. CARICOM is already moving full speed ahead with several initiatives to battle NCDs. The Region has developed a Strategic Plan of Action that included standard-setting for tobacco, salt, as well as nutritional labeling and elaboration of a new primary-care policy. Fourteen out of its 15 Members have already ratified and started implementation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

CARICOM had also institutionalized September 13 as Caribbean Wellness Day which is now a best practice in promoting healthy lifestyles through physical activity and healthy foods. According to President Bouterse, it was the recognition that physical activity played a critical role in promoting healthy lifestyle that led to the establishment of a regional sport academy based in Suriname. This academy would continue to support the regional wellness revolution.

The Suriname President also suggested the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Non-Communicable Diseases. The seriousness of those illnesses he stated, warranted universal access to medicines and technologies. Therefore, it was urgent for international agreements, such as Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), to include measures to defend public health.

In concluding, he called for the continued support of the international community in providing technical and financial resources necessary for monitoring and surveillance of NCDs and attendant risk factors. He stressed the need for effective partnerships in providing rapid response to treating NCDs, and reducing risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol abuse and physical inactivity.

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